The Commandant of the Corps has vehemently disputed the services end strength numbers. So much so, that he has resisted slashing numbers and is beginning his own study. Military.com
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee, who disputes the Quadrennial Defense Review's recommendation to slash his service's end strength by 5,000 Marines, is launching his own study to re-examine the issue.
The Marine Corps' end strength now stands at about 180,000, Hagee told reporters Feb. 15 at a breakfast in Washington.
“I testified a couple of years ago that I thought we were in a spike and we could come down in a couple of years,” Hagee said. “I was mistaken on that and I think we're in a long war.” An end strength of 180,000 is “about right,” he said. The service can recruit and retain to that number, he added.
To be clear, the service's official budget funds 175,000 Marines. But given the pace of U.S. military operations around the world, Congress has authorized the service to have an end strength of 179,000. Further, Hagee noted, the defense secretary has some additional flexibility to have a slightly higher end strength, bringing the size of the force to about 180,000 Marines.
The 5,000 additional Marines not included in the regular defense budget have been supported through the Pentagon's annual request to Congress for emergency supplemental appropriations. But Congress is turning up the pressure on the Pentagon to include all predictable costs in the regular defense budget, instead of repeatedly relying on supplemental appropriations that bypass the defense authorization committees.
If the Pentagon bites the bullet and starts including such costs in its regular budget request, it would likely mean an increase for the total amount of Marine Corps funding in the budget -- the service's topline. But instead the Pentagon's new Quadrennial Defense Review recommends stabilizing the Marine Corps' active duty end strength at 175,000 and its Reserve end strength at 39,000 by fiscal year 2011. Hagee is undeterred.
“My sense is, as long as the war stays the way it is right now, somewhere around 180,000 is the right number,” Hagee told reporters. “If the supplementals go away . . . if our topline does not go up, then we are going to have to come down.”
Rear Adm. Stan Bozin, director of the Navy's budget office, recently suggested the QDR's recommendation to size the Marine Corps at 175,000 by FY-11 is not set in stone.
“Between now and FY-11, a lot of things can happen and we'll have those discussions as we go,” Bozin told reporters Feb. 6.
Asked how the Marine Corps would reconcile the difference between the QDR's recommendation and what he believes is needed, Hagee said there would be discussions with the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
“We're going to do that within OSD,” he said. The new Marine Corps force structure review -- which Hagee called a capabilities assessment -- is due to start in March and conclude by May. Maj. Gen. Steve Johnson will lead the effort, Hagee said.
“It's going to look at what should a 180,000 Marine Corps look like and what should a 175,000 Marine Corps look like,” he continued. Officials will examine capabilities versus the amount of funding available, he said. “We'll make some decisions based on that,” he said. He predicted there would be big fights during the review.
“It's going to look at our operating forces in the light of the lessons that we've learned from the war right now, in the light of the QDR, in the light of some of the additional capabilities we're adding right now like the [Marine Corps Special Operations Command] and make sure we have structured the operating forces correctly with a plan that if the money is not there we would come down to 175,000,” he added. Current plans call for the new Marine Corps component of U.S. Special Operations Command to include 2,600 Marines, all of which would be counted in the service's overall force structure.
This is far from the first time the Marine Corps has re-examined its force structure. Most recently, Hagee set up a force structure review group after he became commandant in 2003. “They looked across the Marine Corps, came up with some areas where we could take risk,” he noted.
“I think now is the right time to do it again,” he said. “We have the QDR. We have the lessons learned from Iraq. . . . We have a much better understanding of this operational, cultural learning that we need to do.” Further, the study will help the Marine Corps prepare for the process of shaping the Pentagon's FY-08 long-term budget, he said.
A reporter asked Hagee if the Marine Corps would be better off with a permanent increase in end strength as opposed to the temporary increases now in effect.
“Well, that would require an increase in our topline,” Hagee said. “And that's one of the purposes of this assessment -- to say if we need to come down to [175,000], either [based on] battlefield changes [or] fiscal realities, what capabilities would we have to give up and is it worth it? Is that a capability that someone else could do? Should we increase the topline in order to retain that capability? So we want to have this discussion based on some hard facts.”
Hagee said the review could help the Marine Corps make the case for a permanent increase in end strength. At least it would inform officials about “what the consequences would be of either reducing or expending those additional funds.”
But Hagee does see some room for modifying existing Marine Corps organizations to improve efficiency and effectiveness. The service might be able to eliminate some headquarters and shift that structure into warfighting capability, he said.
“And that's another task that this study will have is to look at are we even organized correctly? Is the Napoleonic staff that we have used very successfully for years and years -- is it the right configuration for the future?”
At the tactical level, for instance, the service has had an intelligence department and an operations department, he said. “And it's worked very well. The intel department has templated the enemy and then the operations department has worked against that template,” he said. But it could be time for a change.
“On the battlefield today, as I said, there is no Army out there,” he said. “These [enemy] guys are very fast. And we've got to be able to operate inside of their decision cycle. Should we have a G-2 and a G-3? Should they be one organization? That's sort of my sense right now. If you combine those, are there some structure savings? Could you put those structure savings someplace else?”
The review is not expected to change the overall end strength of the Marine Corps Reserves, but it will examine whether they are organized correctly, Hagee said.
“Historically we said they should be a mirror image” of the active force, he said. “Is that right? Let me take a look at that and see.”
We are currently at war. Why are DOD bean-counters recommending troop strength / staffing numbers?